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Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to be ‘one of the best players to ever play’

CHICAGO – With the numbers 23 and 33 dangling from the rafters of the United Center, a 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo was in awe of his first experience playing on the road against the Chicago Bulls in December of 2013.

“I definitely want to be one of the best players to ever play but in order for me to do that, I’ve got to be locked in every night,” Antetokounmpo told ESPN. “Because at the end of the day if you don’t win, it doesn’t count. All the effort you spent, if you don’t win, it really doesn’t count.”

Antetokounmpo pushed through five offensive fouls and eight turnovers, to finish with 33 points and 10 rebounds in a 115-101 Milwaukee Bucks win over the Bulls on Monday night.

Through 13 games, he’s already fouled out three times and posted at least four fouls in six other games including Monday night. Antetokounmpo’s head coach sees it as a lesson to be learned, as the reigning MVP still has the longest active double-double streak (13) in the NBA.

“Thirteen or 14 games in, it seems like an inordinate amount of games he’s been in foul trouble. So the good thing is I do think he’s learning to play with it,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve had to finish at least one or two games without him, if not more, so he’s always growing and learning from every experience so that’s what makes Giannis special.”

Despite his foul trouble, Antetokounmpo is putting up a career-best 30.1 points, 14.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game this season. His six-game stretch of 35 points and 15 rebounds earlier this month made him only the sixth player to average such a line since the merger, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But Antetokounmpo’s pursuit of greatness isn’t just for a multi-game stretch, or even a season. He’s motivated by Bulls greats on the court and inspired by the legacy they leave in the city they played.

He wants his jersey to someday reach the top of Fiserv Forum, so he’s doing things his way.

“I try to lock in and focus on what I’ve got to do. But yeah, previous years, like when I saw No. 23 — and not just 23, when I saw 33 — that was a guy I used to talk to a lot, Scottie,” Antetokounmpo said. “It definitely motivated me. [Chicago’s] a great basketball city. It’s a city that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played in, so I had that extra juice in me. But now I’m just going out there and trying to win no matter what so you can just go back home and be happy.”

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